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Posted 31 July 2008 - 05:56 PM

Tajik Authorities, Clergy Concerned About Salafi Movement
Thursday, July 31, 2008 7:55 AM

Senior Tajik officials have expressed concern over the increasing influence of the Salafi religious movement, a Tajik paper says. It also carries interviews with a well-known Tajik clergy and senator, Haji Akbar Turajonzoda, who criticizes the movement and says it may pose a danger to society. However, interviewed members of the movement say that Salafi is a community and not a movement and that it is not involved in politics. The following is an excerpt from article by Parvina Hamidova entitled "Secret of Salafi movement" published by the Tajik newspaper Asia-Plus on 24 July; subheadings inserted editorially, ellipses as published throughout:

There have been a lot of rumours, disputes and discussions about the Salafi [a sect promoting puritan Islam] movement, which has lately stepped up its activities in Tajikistan. Who are they? What do they want? What consequences will the increase of their influence have?

It was the then interior minister, Khumdin Sharipov, who first made an official statement at a news conference in January 2006 on the emergence of Salafi movement in Tajikistan. An ITAR-TASS report said [at the time] that the former minister mentioned about them in the context of religious and extremist groups becoming active.

[Passage omitted: further quote of ITAR-TASS report on Sharipov's interview on Salafi movement]

Call for tougher actions against Salafi movement

It seems Salafis are still "under close surveillance". However, they have apparently been causing concern of the authorities. Over the past month, several prosecutors made rather sharp statements concerning Salafis. The Tajik prosecutor-general, Bobojon Bobokhonov, last week announced at a news conference that if they establish the involvement of the movement in "anti-constitutional activities", the Prosecutor-General's Office would appeal to the Supreme Court to ban its activities in Tajikistan.

"First, there were Wahhabis, then Hezb-e Tahrir appeared and now Salafiya. My personal view is that they all are against stability," he said. At the same time, the prosecutor noted that no Salafi member had yet been detained on suspicion of being involved in "anti- constitutional activities".

The prosecutor of Sughd Region, Khayrullo Saidov, also made a statement on this issue earlier. He first said that the activities of Salafis were under "tight control", and then called for the restriction of their access to mosques. "Do not allow any supporter of this religious movement to mosque to say a prayer. I order all (prosecutors - editorial note) not to allow them. We know where they have studied and what their goal is. They have studied in a place from where a threat used to be posed on our state back in the 20s of the past century," the CA-news agency says quoting Khayrullo Saidov.

The authorities in [the northern town of] Khujand have also raised concern over Salafiya problems. "Currently, we have to step up awareness campaign and explain young people the ideological danger of the movement in order to prevent the number of its members from increasing," said the mayor of the city, Muhammadjon Mamadjonov, at a regular meeting of his administration at the end of June this year.

Criticism of Salafi movement

Senator of the Supreme Assembly Haji Akbar Turajonzoda was one the first religious figures who have spoken publicly about the problem of Salafis. Asia-Plus [correspondent] asked him to comment on this issue.

[Correspondent] Esteemed Turajonzoda, why is the popularity of the Salafi movement growing in Tajikistan?

[Turajonzoda] I do not agree with the view that they are very popular in our country. Yes, there are Salafis, but they are mainly in major cities. They are almost not present in villages, districts or rural areas.

The Salafis in Tajikistan are led by young people who have studied in major Islamic educational establishments, including an international university in Islamabad named after Faysal [name as transliterated] some of them are also graduates from higher educational establishments in Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Salafis have very strong position in those educational establishments. Information I have indicate that during study those students were financed by various public organizations, mainly from Arab states they pay for education, living and allowances. Most of those organizations receive support from the West. At present, in the Islamic world, specifically after the 11 September [events], nobody provides humanitarian aid, including in the form of grants or allowances, without the USA or Europe's consent. Coming back home, some of the graduates of those universities, who had become ideological followers of Salafiya, continue to promote its ideology. According to reports I have, there are several thousands of followers of this movement in Tajikistan.

[Correspondent] You were the first person to raise this problem in the media. What did force you to do this?

[Turajonzoda] Salafis believe that the traditional flows in Islam Hanafi, Maliki, Hambali, Shafi and others - have divided the Islamic world. They are, specifically, antagonistically disposed to Shi'a Islam followers. They [Salafis] consider them to be kafirs [infidels], that is to say not Muslims. They also do not consider them to be their brothers-in-religion. If anybody doubts my words, they can watch a videodisk of one of the leaders of Tajik Salafi movement, who is called Muhammadi. They believe that there are many superstitions and unneeded traditions and that they should be cleaned. In other words, Salafi movement's goal is that all should follow only the Koran and Sunnah [traditions] of the Prophet [Muhammad]. Despite the fact that the Hanafi does not go beyond the frame of the Koran and Sunnah, they interpret it in favour of their own goals.

[Passage omitted: more on Salafi teaching]

[Turajonzoda] I, probably, was the first to speak publicly about this through the media in Tajikistan. I expressed regret that some government officials consider this movement to be harmless. The idea to support the Salafi movement was based on the principle of curbing the growing popularity of traditional religious figures. At the same time, analysing their activities in Tajikistan, as well as in the whole Islamic world, you can arrive at a conclusion that some special services definitely stand behind such explosive forces.

Why are they now sharply speaking against Shi'a Islam followers? Do you think the irreconcilable opposition between the West and Iran could not be behind this?

[Passage omitted: Turajonzoda says radical groups sometimes emerge because of the authorities' improper policy]

[Correspondent] Official reports indicate that the authorities earlier did not see any threat in the emergence of the Salafi movement. However, their statements have recently become tougher. What do you think, why is this happening?

[Turajonzoda] Tajik Salafis have in every convenient or inconvenient time been expressing their full loyalty to the leadership of the country, even sometimes making inappropriate remarks that the leader of the state [President Emomali Rahmon] is God's proxy on earth. However, this is their temporary recognition. Another secret of the Tajik Salafi movement is that they have people with good contacts. There are even offspring of senior officials among them. By the way, it is them who are now expressing concern over this.

Alleged aid from abroad

Salafiya is mainly a movement of young people. The average age of Salafis in Tajikistan is 30. Although, they might by the time abandon those principles, they might be dangerous if they are properly financed and managed. Al-Qa'idah, Jihad-e Islami and others are all Salafi movements. At present there are grounds to think that Tajik Salafi movement is properly financed from abroad. They recruit young people, who are not fully educated, but are talented and can lead other people - like Bolsheviks did at the time - and pay them good money from 300 to 400 dollars a month. They also publish dozens of books, translate works of Salafi leaders and distribute them free of charge.

However, I am convinced that the Salafi ideology will not widely spread in Tajikistan. At the same time, we should not forget that young people might take extreme steps if they consider that there is no other way. They can commit terrorist acts or murders. Many people even warn me that I should not so actively fight them and that they may attempt on my life. However, I have not yet observed any factor constituting a threat, although their propaganda and preaching shows that I and my brothers cause a specific hatred in Salafi movement members."

[Correspondent] What do you think about the methods proposed by Sughd Region's prosecutor and other officials as a countermeasure against Salafi movement?

[Turajonzoda] I think to some extent this will have an effect. However, it is better to take preventive measures. On the one hand, the majority of the people believe in the official assessment and such statements will to some extent make people (in the first instance, the officials whose offspring have sympathy to Salafis) sober and forces them to talk to their offspring, and caution them against showing interest in Salafiya. There are also more effective methods. My brothers and I have also making such efforts.

[Passage omitted: Turajonzoda says he and his brothers carrying out awareness campaign against Salafi movement in mosques and at various religious functions and that this method is proving to be effective]

[Turajonzoda] As far as other more radically disposed people concerned, and it has to be said that there are many of them in Salafi movement; it is necessary to take tougher measures against them, although punitive measures are inadmissible. One should not be sent to jail because of his religious conviction. This will give a converse effect. For example, followers of the Hezb-e Tahrir are carrying out a very active propaganda in jails. Reports we have say that many inmates now follow "[Hezb-e] Tahrir".

[Passage omitted: Turajonzoda says traditional clergy are also making efforts to curb Salafi influence in the country; background on Salafi movement]

Salafi members say they are not involved in politics

[Correspondent] My meeting with representatives of the Salafi movement took place in the centre of Dushanbe. The four young people differed from their peers only by their untrimmed beards. They all were nearly of the same age from 30 to 35. They introduce themselves only by their first names. Two of them agreed to answer my questions. Suhrob and Abdurahmon joined Salafi movement almost at the same time some five years ago. Both have higher education Suhrob graduated from the faculty of foreign languages of a pedagogical institute and Abdurahmon graduated from the capital's polytechnics institute.

Suhrob says he was not interested in religion before and lived a usual life of a young man: "Well, you know how this was drank, had fun and did things like this...". However, one day I met my old friend, who was a religious person. He began to persuade me that it was not correct to live in that way. Suhrob gradually became interested in religion.

"I read many books in order to find my way. I think what I have chosen is the most acceptable for me because this is the path of our ancestors," Suhrob says.

In response to a question as to why it was Salafiya and not the traditional Hanafi, he answered explicitly: "This is my choice, and moreover we are brothers with Hanafi followers."

[Correspondent] Don't you have any disagreement with them?

[Suhrob] No we do not have any disagreement with Muslims

Hanafi, Maliki or others. The Koran and Sunnah also, like us, guide them. The problem is in another thing many extra things emerged in Islam, which had never been in it. For example, this is funeral repast three days, seven days, forty and a year - so much waste [of money]. This had never been in Islam and the Prophet [Muhammad] did not say about this. However, they (religious leaders) do not understand this. They simply gain from this...

[Correspondent] I try to find out the reasons behind the criticism of the traditional Tajik clergy by their leaders if there is not disagreement, and get an unexpected answer.

[Suhrob] We do not have any leaders we are all equal before God. We respect elders and those who have good knowledge. However, we do not have leaders. We are not an organization or a movement we are simply a community. Just for this reason we have never strived for getting officially registered or to have another legal status. We do not need this...

[Correspondent] Have you heard that you have a leader, who is called Muhammadi?

[Suhrob] It is you who is calling him [a leader]. Neither he himself nor we consider him to be a leader. He is a brother to us like others. There are simply several such people among us, who can talk about the godly path of our ancestors to the people. However, he is not the only such person.

[Correspondent] The following is what Suhrob and Abdurahmon said about the difference between Salafi movement and Hezb-e Tahrir:

[Suhrob] Members of Hezb-e Tahrir are also Muslims. However, they have their own goals they are against the government. However, we are not involved in politics. Our goal is to save our souls, to save the people who surround us. We also support the government if its actions do not contradict the Koran and hadithes.

[Correspondent] Is it true that there are many offspring of senior officials among you?

[Suhrob] We do not know anything about this. We all are brothers... There are different people among us. I even cannot say how many we are. I am not interested in statistics.

[Correspondent] Is there any place in Dushanbe where you get together to pray collectively or simply talk?

[Suhrob] Yes, of course, sometimes we gather and talk to our brothers. After all, we have so much in common. However, we do not have any gatherings or meetings. We go to pray to various mosques of the city together with all [other believers]. However, most of our brothers go to Sirojiddin Mosque in Zarafshon.

[Correspondent] How did your parents accept your choice?

[Abdurahmon] My father is an Orientalist. He does not understand me and does not think this is good. However, my mother supports me.

[Correspondent] When we returned to the issue of the criticism of Turajonzoda by Salafis, which are being spread through audio and video devices, the two said: "We do not criticize Haji Akbar Turajonzoda or his brothers personally. Our criticism is focused on what Eshon Nuriddin (a brother of Turajonzoda) says about our views and his evaluation as a whole...

[Passage omitted: briefly about brothers Turajonzoda; about Shi'a and Ismailis]

Salafi leaders meet migrants

A report was quite recently posted on the movement's website (www.tajmigrant.com) about a meeting of the leader of the public movement Tajik Labour Migrants in Russia, Karomat Sharipov, "with representatives of the Salafi religious organization, including its leader Muhammadi Rahmatullo; and deputy leader, Saidburhon Sharif; in Moscow. The information bureau ODD TTM [name of the agency untraced] quoting Muhammadi Rahmatullo reports that the Salafi movement now has 20,000 members. Salafiya has been carrying out active missionary activities since 2001. Rahmatullo says over that period representatives of Salafi movement visited major regions of the Russian Federation, where there are Tajik labour migrants.

However, I was not able to deny or confirm this information. Karomat Sharipov was not available when the article was being prepared. Salafi movement members also could not confirm or deny the fact that Muhammadi at present is not in Tajikistan.

[Passage omitted: a thorough analysis of the Salafi movement needed]

Originally published by Asia-Plus, Dushanbe, in Russian 24 Jul 08.

© 2008 BBC Monitoring Central Asia. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.

Story Source: BBC Monitoring Central Asia

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Posted 02 August 2008 - 04:43 PM

Would anyone from Tajikistan care to comment on this issue? Is this a serious problem like these articles are suggesting? I noticed the anti-Iran twist to things. Cant help to wonder whether it is more than a coincidence that as Iran and Tajikistan aim to come closer to each other reports like these ones of potential obstacle to that are emerging.

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Tajik Government Concerned By Increasing Growth Of SalafismJuly 27, 2008 By Gulnoza Saidazimova Muhammadi Rakhmatullo is the head of Salafiyyah, an unregistered religious organization in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe. Educated in a Pakistani madrasah, Rakhmatullo is known as Mullah Muhammadi in Tajikistan and is one of the country's Salafi leaders.He and his fellow members -- most of whom are young men in their 20s and early 30s -- differ from most other Tajik men. They all have beards and wear their trousers rolled up. Those signs show that they practice Salafism, a form of Islam that is quite different from Hanafism, the traditional, more liberal brand of Islam practiced by the huge majority of Tajiks.But it is not the look of the Salafis that concerns people. It is not even their growing presence in mosques and the differences in the way they pray and perform other religious rituals.Some devout Hanafi Muslims -- including Islamic scholars and Tajik officials -- seem most worried by the growing influence and exclusionism of the Salafis. The danger, they say, is that Salafis see themselves as the purest Muslims and exclude others, renouncing many kinds of Islam -- Shi'ism and Sufism among them.Rakhmatullo claims that 20,000 people have joined his organization in Tajikistan in recent years, and the number of Salafis coming to Friday Prayers -- including to the biggest central mosque in Dushanbe, Imam At-Termezi -- has been rising steadily.Rakhmatullo and other Salafis shy away from the media. However, Salafi ideology is widely disseminated in brochures and other such materials available on the streets and in bookstores at mosques. Reports say Salafis distribute nearly 6,000 audio and videotapes, books, and brochures every week.One of the videos features Rakhmatullo giving an anti-Iran speech. He is also very critical of Tajik officials who say that Tajiks and Iranians are brothers (they share the same language and ethnicity)."Even my [Muslim] brothers [from Tajikistan] did not prove useful to me. So why would I want other 'brothers' to come from Iran?" Rakhmatullo said. "Look, there are 7 million people in Tajikistan. Half of them are men. A million and a half out of 3.5 million are children. Another million Tajiks are in Russia. Only 1 million [Tajik men are] left in Tajikistan. Out of them, only 225,000 attend Friday Prayers. The rest are an absolutely useless bunch of people."Salafis advocate a pure form of Islam that is said to be similar to that practiced by the earliest generations of Muslims starting with the Prophet Muhammad (Salaf means "ancestors" or "early generations" in Arabic).Salafis renounce innovations, alterations, and additions that were added in succeeding centuries to their "pure" form of Islam.The Salafis' rejection of Sufism has caused resentment among many Tajiks because Sufism has strong roots in Tajikistan.Most Tajiks are Sunnis, although about 5 percent of Tajiks belong to the Shi'a minority of the Islamiliyyah sect in the remote Pamir Mountains.Some believe Salafism is similar to Wahabbism, and many people use those terms interchangeably. Even the habit of rolled-up pants is similar to the Wahhabi custom in former Soviet republics for adherents to wear their pants three centimeters shorter than normal.Some say Wahhabis in Central Asia and the Caucasus used the name "Salafi" to mask any connections to Wahhabism and the official repercussions that could be made against them because of the negative association that comes with Wahhabism. But Salafis deny that claim, pointing out that Wahhabism is based on the teachings of a cleric from the 18th century, Muhammad Abd al-Wahhab. The head of the Interior Ministry in Soghd Province, Abdurahim Kakhharov, said on June 30 that Salafis must be controlled "because they are associates of Wahhabis."The ideas and practices of Wahabbism -- an Islamic doctrine of the ruling royal dynasty in Saudi Arabia -- first came to the former Soviet republics in the 1980s.Authorities often use the term Wahabbism to describe various Islamic movements outside state control, and ascribe antigovernment activities to them.In Tajikistan, the term was discredited among even ordinary people during the 1992-97 bloody civil war in which an Islamic opposition fought the post-Soviet regime.Because of the Salafis' anti-Shi'a and anti-Iran positions, there have been allegations that the United States is behind the Salafi movement in Tajikistan.Hajji Akbar Turajonzoda, a parliamentarian and prominent member of the Islamic opposition, is one of those who claims that the West finances the Salafis. In an April 30 interview with Russia's Regnum information agency, he claimed Western secret services have instructed Salafis to "fight Shi'ites -- more precisely, Iran.""Their goal is to create antagonism in society and destroy unity among Muslims," Turajonzoda said.He also claimed that the Salafis' base could not grow without significant financial assistance from "foreign intelligence centers."Tracy Jacobson, the U.S. ambassador in Dushanbe, denied the allegations in an interview with RFE/RL's Tajik Service on July 2."This idea that we at the [U.S.] embassy give money to religious groups is a crazy idea," Jacobson said. "It's not true, I can assure you. But we do work with the [Tajik] government to support freedom of conscience for all peaceful religious groups. But no, we don't give money to the Salafi or other groups. I also read the article in which someone said we support Hizb-ut Tahrir and Salafi in order to create divisions within the Islamic world. It's nothing but propaganda."Tajik authorities have been careful not to openly criticize Salafis in the past. However, several high-ranking officials have lately expressed concerns about the growth of the Salafism ideology.There have been cases in which Salafi literature has been confiscated. The most recent incident came last month when police seized 62 books in a single raid in the southwestern city of Kulob.Earlier this year, Interior Minister Mahmadnazar Salihov admitted that Salafis had not committed "any unlawful and unconstitutional acts." He added, however, that Salafi followers are recognized as extremists and are banned in some countries.Hayrullo Saidov, the prosecutor in the northern Soghd Province, announced on June 30 that authorities plan to strengthen control over the activities of Salafiyyah members in Soghd. Tajik media quoted Saidov as saying that Salafiyyah is "dangerous because it shows itself from its good side first and then gradually becomes dangerous."Media have reported that among the confiscated Salafi literature was a pamphlet describing how to keep young people from becoming Shi'ite.A Kulob government official, Emomali Bulbulov, said that most of the books were high quality and had been printed in Russia. He also said that Salafis promised to pay $200 to nonmembers to distribute the books.Turajonzoda, who has criticized the Tajik authorities for not taking a harder stance against Salafis, supports the more aggressive attitude by the Tajik government regarding Salafis."I heard that the Tajik government, after analyzing and studying this group -- and perhaps, they have also got some information from other countries -- has ordered that this movement should not be supported and even it should be restricted," Turajonzoda said. "To some extent, I support this idea, although in my opinion not supporting the movement would be enough."Reports indicate that Salafism is also growing in other parts of the former Soviet Union.Salafiyyah members frequently visit Russia -- the main destination for Tajik labor migrants -- and disseminate Salafi ideas among them. This comes at a time when many Tajiks have left Islam altogether, as more than 180,000 Tajiks are reported to have converted to other religions in recent years, most of them to Christianity.RFE/RL's Tajik Service correspondents Farhodi Milod and Kayumars Ato contributed to this reporthttp://www.rferl.org...le/1186548.html

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